[See An All-Out Assault on Autism.]
What else did you learn about the challenges of living with autism?
Once you befriend—or in my case, become best friends with—someone with autism, you no longer define them as such. When someone brings up Chad, the first thing that comes to mind is his job at a pizzeria, and that he's now sleeping in his own bedroom for the first time in years. There's a lot more to Chad than just having autism.
Kaylin battled cancer at a young age. You call her one of the most "extraordinary and inspiring individuals" you've met. Why's that?
Kaylin does a wonderful job of articulating her illness and what it's like to go through chemo. At one point, she says, 'It's like having the worst hangover of your life, every single day.' The incredible thing is that Kaylin hardly ever feels bad for herself and tries to put whatever energy she has toward helping other people. She's publishing her own comic book for terminally ill kids, and kids going through chemo who don't have the energy to read an entire book. Kaylin moved from San Francisco to New York City and lost her health insurance, and you get this overwhelming feeling that there are two rules in U.S. healthcare: If you have wealth and power and an MTV show, you can go anywhere and do good. If you're Kaylin, you're kind of neglected, and it's sad because a country is only as good as how it takes care of those who are most vulnerable. And we could all be doing a better job of that.
What should people know about this generation of young people?
Because of technology, information is like water—it's everywhere. I think young people have a fairly good idea of what's going on in the world, and they realize it's important to give back and contribute. To a certain extent, it's even expected or assumed that that's how we'll behave. Even if we're always on the phone or Tweeting, that doesn't mean we're completely self-oriented. D-Real, Chad, and Kaylin were all about giving back and making a difference, and that's not to say they didn't manage to have fun, too.
What's it like to go through such personal experiences with these people?
I definitely have a strong emotional attachment. I live with these people for a year, and they become similar to family. Kaylin's cancer has since come back, and that was one of the harder days of my life. Even when the smallest thing happens to them, it means something to me. And I would hope that when things happen with me, they'll check in with me, too.
Your book, Andrew Jenks: My Adventures as a Young Filmmaker, came out on Friday. What's it about?
It goes back to when I was a kid travelling around with my parents in Nepal and Belgium, and always relying on a big, bulky VHS camera that was my only friend. And it follows my trajectory as I moved into a nursing home and made my first documentary, and the time I spent living in Japan. It's a fun book, I hope, and takes you behind the scenes with a lot of photos.